Poole Harbour is made up of many different habitats, which in turn provides a stunning variety of bird life throughout the entire year.

This is an interactive guide to help you learn when and where the best places are to watch birds. Poole Harbour is made up of many different habitats, which in turn provides a stunning variety of bird life throughout the entire year.

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Baiter Park

The Baiter Park and Whitecliff area is a large and recently reclaimed part of Poole Harbour, which is often very busy with people. However, despite its close proximity to Poole Town centre, this urban setting can produce some excellent birding.

There is a decent cycle/footpath which runs above the shoreline arching round to the shallow Parkstone Bay. Winter is the best time for a walk around Baiter and Whitecliff when different stages of the tide can produce a whole range of species. On a high tide, especially during adverse weather conditions, many birds take shelter on the main Baiter playing fields with up to 15 Ringed Plover, 15 Turnstone, several Dunlin, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit and in extreme cold weather the occasional Golden Plover.

It was also recently discovered that Jack Snipe are regular night feeders out on Baiter, in amongst the small pools that are created after heavy rain. During winter storms overwintering Sandwich Tern and Mediterranean Gull are also regularly found hunkering down on the playing fields whilst birds like Kittiwake, Little Gull and Little Stint have also been recorded using the fields. Each winter a flock of between 50-150 (Dark-bellied) Brent Geese arrive from Siberia to feed on the short turf with good numbers of Oystercatcher also joining them.

With so much open water to view, species such as Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe and Great Northern Diver are relatively easy to find from November through to February. Scarcer species such as Smew, Slavonian Grebe, Black-throated Diver, Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck are also worth keeping an eye out for. Black Redstart can sometimes be found overwintering at the western end of Baiter near Fisherman’s Dock and Rock Pipit are regular on the playing fields too with occasional Water Pipit in amongst the more common Meadow Pipit.

Birding Info

There are no hides or viewing screens but large open panoramic views allow easy birding out across the water. A scope is useful especially in winter. Baiter is busiest for birds during winter and early spring but make your visits earlier in the day before large numbers of the public begin using the site. In strong SW gales in winter Baiter is an excellent sheltering spot for many birds and is well worth checking the playing fields in the most torrid of weather for sheltering gulls, waders and over-wintering terns.

Facilities

Baiter has an excellent cycle path bordering the southern edge providing easy access and viewing opportunities out across the water. There are public toilets managed and maintained by the Borough of Poole and plenty of eating establishments along Poole Quay front within a 3-5 minuet walk from Baiter.

Parking

Baiter Park has a large pay and pay and display car park on the waterfront located within BH15 1UY. It’s also easy to locate walking from Poole Quay.

Spring

Brent Goose, Great Crested Grebe, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Mediterranean Gull, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit and Wheatear

Summer

Sandwich Tern, Common Tern and Herring Gull

Autumn

Great Crested Grebe, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Turnstone, Meadow Pipit, Black Redstart and Wheatear

Winter

Brent Goose, Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Smew, Red-breasted Merganser, Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Great Crested Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Turnstone, Kittiwake, Little Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Sandwich Tern, Kingfisher, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Water Pipit and Black Redstart

Bestwall & Swineham River Walks

Situated to the east of Wareham, Swineham and Bestwall provide the widest range of habitats in the harbour with reed beds, floodplain, river banks, woodland and gravel pits all combining to allow for a long list of birds to be seen on each visit.

A lengthy public footpath runs around the entire site, and you can park along Bestwall Road, but don’t drive or park beyond the entrance of Wareham Rugby Club as this becomes a private road thereafter.

A walk along the edge of the River Frome in spring is a sheer delight as Cetti’s Warbler, Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler all announce their presence with their loud songs whilst hirundines swoop low over the gravel pits and floodplains. In early spring and winter Bittern use the reed beds around the main gravel pit at Swineham and viewing from the eastern end at dusk from January to March could reward the observer with a sighting. Marsh Harrier and Hen Harrier can be watched from the end of the footpath at the gravel pits along with Bearded Tit in the winter.

The main gravel pit holds overwintering wildfowl with occasional scarcities such as Scaup and Smew mixed in with the more regular species such as Gadwall, Shoveler and Tufted Duck. In spring, passage waders such as Ruff, Little Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Sandpiper use the floodplains. Gulls often drop onto the main gravel pit around dusk before moving off to the main Wareham Channel roost with Ring-billed Gull and Caspian Gull being recorded in recent years.

At the end of the breeding season, the reedbed east of the gravel pit is probably the best place to try and see Bearded Tit within the harbour. Swineham and Bestwall attract their fair share of rarities with Lesser Scaup, Cattle Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Whiskered Tern, White-winged Black Tern and Red-rumped Swallow all logged within the last few years. A visit at anytime of year will reward you with a set of new experiences not easily replicated elsewhere in the harbour.

Birding Info

This section of the Frome Valley is productive right the way through the year and with a large set of gravel pits situated in the centre of the two rives the area attracts a good variety of birds. In winter, standing down on the corner of the gravel pits, looking out across the reedbed can be good for Marsh and Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Merlin. In March, Bittern depart from Swineham Gravel Pits on clear, still March evenings. If wet, the flood plains can attract a variety of waders and the gravel pits have in the past attracted a variety of tern species including Whiskered, White-winged and Black Tern. Kingfisher, Cetti’s Warbler and Reed Bunting are all frequent.

Facilities

There are no facilities around the Swineham and Bestwall river walks and footpaths are not suitable for cycling or wheelchairs. During the winter the footpaths can become exceptionally muddy so wellies are advisable. The footpaths are managed and maintained by Dorset County Council and look out for wooden signage posts directing walkers.

Parking

To access the Bestwall and Swineham river walks you can park along Bestwall Road BH20 4HY. There is strictly no driving beyond Wareham Rugby Club. Please don’t obstruct residential driveways.

Spring

Garganey, Bittern, Little Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, Cuckoo, Swift, Sand Martin, Swallow, House Martin, Cetti's Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Willow Warbler

Summer

Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Hobby, Barn Owl, Skylark, Cetti's Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler

Autumn

Osprey, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Yellow-legged Gull, Kingfisher, Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Blackcap and Bearded Tit

Winter

Gadwall, Pochard, Scaup, Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Kingfisher, Fieldfare, Redwing, Cetti's Warbler and Bullfinch

BoPH HQ Poole Quay

Our new engagement HQ was opened on March 1st 2018. This vibrant, interactive and engaging space was designed and created to provide the public with a modern and in depth view into the harbour and its important bird life.

With large interactive touch screen maps, listening stations, live webcams, in store bird hide and so much, this quay front experience has received rave reviews from both the public and local businesses alike. Our charity hosts a number of events throughout the year including many bird boat tours which you can learn about and book onto in the HQ, as well as speaking to our staff and volunteers about all you need to know about ‘birding the harbour’. HQ Address - 19 Enefco House, Poole Quay, Dorset, BH15 1HJ

Birding Info

Birding from Poole Quay can be surprisingly productive and with an open sea view species such as Great Northern Diver, Red-breasted Merganser and Great Crested Grebe are regular in the winter off Poole Quay. Turnstone and Ringed Plover roost on the rocks of the protective marina sea wall with Turnstone often feeding along the quay in mid winter. Much of our nocturnal migration work has been based around the Poole Quay/Old Town Poole area and has been extremely productive with species such as Common and Green Sandpiper, Tree Pipit and even Ortolan Bunting occurring regularly at night over our BoPH HQ in the autumn.

Facilities

Numerous cycle paths lead to Poole Quay, either from Whitecliff and Baiter or via Upton Country Park and Holes Bay. There are plenty of eating establishments close by and our HQ is fully wheelchair accessible. Within our HQ we sell a great range of ‘Cruelty Free’ binoculars and telescopes, have several touch screen interactive maps, live bird webcams from around the harbour, detailed and thorough information about the harbour and its birds, project information, Poole Harbour bird cruises, bird sound listening stations, in store bird hide and more!

Parking

The nearest parking is the Quay Visitors multi story car park at Old Orchard, Poole BH15 1SB. There are also numerous free two-hour spaces located around Old Town Poole.

Spring

Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Mediterranean Gull, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Peregrine, Swift, Swallow

Summer

Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Swift, Swallow and LOTS of Herring Gulls

Autumn

Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Peregrine, Osprey (occasional), Kingfisher, Shag, Cormorant

Winter

Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Great Northern Diver, Guillemot, Sandwich Tern, Red-breasted Merganser, Little Egret, Peregrine, Kingfisher.

Bramble Bush Bay Studland

Tucked up in the southern inner section of the Poole Harbour mouth, Bramble Bush Bay is a quiet and secluded area of tidal mudflat. It offers great views out across the deeper sections of the inner harbour where good numbers of open water species gather in the winter such as Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Goldeneye and Great Northern Diver.

Turnstone, Sanderling, Oystercatcher Grey Plover and Ringed Plover all feed in the bay on the low tide and on high tides some roost on the large concrete ‘tank traps’ half way along the bay. In late summer tern and gull feeding flocks gather in large numbers in the tidal race just inside the harbour mouth and off the southeast of Brownsea Island.

The shoreline near the houseboats in Bramble Bush Bay is the best place to scan this area from. Following the bay south it reaches Jerry’s Point, another excellent vantage point to view the large open parts of the inner harbour where Long-tailed Duck, Eider and Velvet Scoter sometimes feed. The heathland bordering Bramble Bush Bay hold resident Dartford Warbler, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and in the summer Nightjar.

Birding Info

Bramble Bush Bay holds good numbers of over-wintering birds but they can get spooked easily by dogs off leads so please keep dogs on leads in this area at all times if possible. A walk out to Jerry’s Point, just north of Bramble Bush Bay is highly advisable in mid winter as this allows a wider field of view and can give good, close views of Great Northern Diver, Black-necked Grebe and Goldeneye. A scope is advantageous and watching from ‘The House Boats’ can also be good for open water species and waders on the low tide.

Facilities

The Studland Ferry Road is popular with cyclists and Shell Beach car park is easily access via bike from either the Sandbanks to Studland chain ferry from Poole or by cycling through Studland and along the Studland peninsular. There are public toilets within the car park.

Parking

Bramble Bush Bay is best accessed by parking in the Shell Beach National Trust pay and display car park at BH19 3BA. National Trust members park for free. Cross the road heading SW back towards Bramble bush Bay.

Spring

Summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Dartford Warbler, Wheatear, Willow Warbler, Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin.

Summer

Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Shag, Stonechat, Dartford Warbler, Meadow Pipit.

Autumn

Brent Goose, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe, Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Curlew, Grey Plover, Oystercatcher, Little Egret, Kingfisher, Reed Bunting, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Spotted Flycatcher, Wheatear, Redstart.

Winter

Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Northern Diver, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Slavonain Grebe, Eider, Common Scoter, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Shag.

Brand’s Bay

The whole of the Studland Peninsular provides birding interest right the way through the year and positioned on the inland southern side of Studland lies Brand’s Bay. This large shallow bay drains quickly on the falling tide and fills just as quickly as the tide rises.

Being so close to the open sea Brand’s Bay acts as a welcome refuge for open water species such as divers, grebes and sea duck when rough conditions force them in from Studland and Poole Bays. During the winter large congregations of waders and wildfowl gather on the exposed mud and by December, over the big low tides, thousands of birds can be watched right the way across to the Goathorn Peninsular. On high tides during the winter Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye can easily be found off Redhorn Point along with several Great Northern Diver.

A well-positioned National Trust hide on the edge of the bay allows for good views of most species but binoculars or a telescope are essential. Scarcer species can occur such as Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoter so a visit on cold winter mornings can pay dividends.

In spring and autumn, the area hosts plenty of passage migrants with Osprey occasionally hunting in the bay and the surrounding heathland hold a good variety of warblers, chats, flycatchers and thrushes during peak migration times.

Birding Info

To the north of the hide there is sandy peninsular called Redhorn Point, which is a good place to scan for divers, grebe and sea duck during the winter. The heathland boarding the edge of Brands Bay is good for regular heathland species and the hide is only a short 5-10 minute walk from Greenland’s Farm allowing you to cover a good range of habitats during a morning or afternoon walk.

Facilities

Brands Bay is best accessed by foot or by bike either by cycling along the Studland Road from the chain ferry or from the Knoll Beach or Middle beach car park. There is a great hide on the southern edge of Brands Bay which is best visited during the autumn and winter and visiting on a low or rising tide is most productive with waders often being pushed closer to the hide.

Parking

Parking for Brand's Bay, Greenland’s Farm or Godlingston Heath is best at the National Trust Knoll Beach or Middle Beach pay and display car park and then walking or cycling down to the main foot and cycle path access points which are sign posted from those car parks.

Spring

Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Brent Goose, Little Egret, Osprey, Grey Plover, Curlew, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Knot, Mediterranean Gull, Stonechat and Dartford Warbler

Summer

Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Mediterranean Gull, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Stonechat Meadow Pipit and Dartford Warbler

Autumn

Brent Goose, Wigeon, Pintail, Teal, Red-breasted Merganser, Great White Egret, Osprey, Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Yellow-legged Gull, Dartford Warbler, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Chiffchaff, Redstart.

Winter

Brent Goose, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Goldeneye, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Northern Diver, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Little Egret, Grey Plover, Knot, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin, Great White Egret, Peregrine, Marsh Harrier, Dartford Warbler.

Branksome Chine & Poole Bay

The inclusion of Branksome Chine within our Poole Harbour recording area provides us with a large, expansive area of Poole Bay to monitor as a sea-watching site. Watching from here has to be planned carefully and the time of year with the correct wind direction is vital to success. Time it right and you can be treated to a whole range of species you wouldn’t normally encounter anywhere else in the harbour.

The best times to watch are during the spring and autumn when strong southeast winds blow birds closer into shore that would otherwise be passing further out in Poole Bay. During the spring Arctic Skua, Great Skua and Pomarine Skua all move through Poole Bay and species such as Little Gull, Little Tern, Black Tern and Roseate Tern can be recorded too. In the autumn there is the possibility of seeing Grey Phalarope, Little Auk or even Sabine’s Gull, all of which have been recorded from Branksome Chine.

Gannet, Fulmar and Kittiwake can be seen during periods of unsettled weather and in the winter a fair amount of time watching the rolling waves could reward you with good numbers of passage Red-throated Diver and occasional Black-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver. In late winter/early spring large auk movements occur out in the bay with thousands of Guillemot and Razorbill passing back and forth in the right conditions. If a mid-summer storm blows in a sea-watch could yield Manx Shearwater and Storm Petrel. To the east a large feeding raft of Great Crested Grebe forms each winter, often consisting of 100+ birds.

Birding Info

A telescope is almost essential for Poole Bay as most sea birds pass out in the bay at quite some distance. Without doubt sea watching during an easterly wind direction is most beneficial. Peak times to watch the bay are early morning between April and May and then August to October. However winter sea watches can also be productive with species such as all three Divers, Long-tailed Duck, Common and Velvet Scoter and Eider all possible. Arctic, Great and Pomarine Skua are all annual in the correct conditions and scarcities such as Grey Phalarope and Sabine’s Gull have also been logged out in the bay.

Facilities

The long promenade that runs between Sandbanks and Boscombe Promenade allows easy access by bike. Poole Bay can be viewed from many areas but Branksome Chine is the most northerly point of our Poole Harbour recording area. There are public toilets close by and a selection of eateries along the promenade.

Parking

Parking can be found at the Branksome Chine pay and display car park located at BH13 6LP. For a higher, wider angle view you can park along Cliff Drive located at BH13 7JE.

Spring

Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Great Northern Diver, Fulmar, Gannet, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Little Tern, Black Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Roseate Tern, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Little Gull and Mediterranean Gull

Summer

Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Sandwich Tern and Common Tern

Autumn

Common Scoter, Fulmar, Gannet, Storm Petrel, Leach's Petrel, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Sabine's Gull, Kittiwake, Little Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Black Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern and Little Auk

Winter

Brent Goose, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Great Crested Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Fulmar, Gannet and Kittiwake

Brownsea Lagoon

Brownsea Island rarely needs an introduction but reiterating just how wonderful and important the lagoon is to birdlife never becomes a chore. The island is owned by the National Trust and the lagoon managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust.

In summer thriving Common Tern and Sandwich Tern colonies pulse just metres away from the well-positioned hides as passage Black Tern, Little Tern and Roseate Tern occasionally drop in to join the party. As the spring and autumn migration seasons pick up, the lagoon acts as a refuelling service station for many thousands of birds throughout the year as Ringed Plover, Knot, Dunlin, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper Greenshank and Whimbrel drop in for a quick snack. The lagoon holds nationally and internationally important numbers of Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit, along with good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Spoonbill, Dunlin, Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler.

In the trees around the lagoon Firecrest, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Treecreeper are frequent with migrant passerines such as Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail, Swallow, Sand Martin and House Martin all making use of the open water and its fringes.

The lagoon serves as an important high tide gathering area for many of the harbour’s overwintering waders and wildfowl and to say the lagoon has had its fair share of rarities over the years would be an understatement with Elegant Tern, Caspian Tern, Western Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Bonaparte’s Gull, Common Crane and Cattle Egret all recorded in recent years.

Birding Info

The Brownsea Lagoon is managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust and there is a suggested donation of £2 per person upon entry of Lagoon nature reserve. There are two well positioned hides which look out east across the lagoon and give good views of waders, wildfowl and terns. A scope is advantageous but the hides often have DWT volunteers situated inside who allow you to view birds through their scopes. Terns begin arriving back on to their nesting islands by early May and offer excellent photographic opportunities for keen photographers. Passage waders begin using the lagoon from early July with the peak time for passage occurring in August and September. Peak numbers of Spoonbill usually occur in early to mid October but they’re present for most of August and the whole of September too. The Brownsea Lagoon is a rarity hot spot with species such as Elegant Tern, Caspian Tern, Baird’s, Stilt, Western and Semipalmated Sandpiper, Kentish Plover and Bonaparte’s Gull all found here in recent years so make sure you get your eye in for anything ‘a bit different’.

Facilities

Two ferry companies run trips to Brownsea Island, these are Brownsea Island Ferries and Greenslades. During the open season, which runs from mid March until late October, ferries from Poole Quay run from 10am to 4pm and the journey to Brownsea takes 20 minuets. If catching the Ferry from Sandbanks then boats run from 10am to 4:30pm with the trip to Brownsea only taking 5 minuets. Brownsea Island closes at 5pm each day during open season. Entry to Browsnea is free for National Trust members, but please check National Trust website for latest admission fees for non-members. On the island the National Trust has good café and public toilets can be found at several sites across the island. During the winter the National Trust opens the island on a set of winter weekend dates allowing you to witness lagoon at one of the most productive times.

Parking

Brownsea is only accessible by boat. Ferry’s run from Poole Quay and from the Sandbanks Quay. If catching the ferry from Sandbanks then you can park on the pay and display Panorama Road located at BH13 7RB. If departing from Poole Quay then parking can be found at the Quay Visitors multi story car park located at BH15 1SB.

Spring

Spoonbill, Avocet, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Mediterranean Gull, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern and Kingfisher

Summer

Oystercatcher, Avocet, Black-headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Roseate Tern, Kingfisher and Reed Warbler

Autumn

Spoonbill, Avocet, Grey Plover, Knot, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Shoveler, Garganey (occasional), Merlin.

Winter

Wigeon, Gadwall Teal, Pintail, Shoveler, Spoonbill, Avocet, Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Firecrest, Lesser Redpoll and Kingfisher

Call 01202 641 003